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Any colour you like

it’s all subjective

in Hasselblad XPan , Thursday, July 08, 2010

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently wondering about what type of film to take to Svalbard next month. The arguments about the subjective qualities of different types rage across the internet (yes, still), with no end of “expert”, dogmatic opinions (as well as the odd voice of reason).

I won’t go into the arguments here, but I did remember an interesting experience from a few years back.

During a photographic trip around Iceland in March 2008 with Daniel Bergmann, we were driving towards the town of Vik while a storm front was approaching from the south, making a very dramatic contrast between thick, dense cloud reflect dark sand and sea, and snow covered dunes.

We stopped to take a few photos. I was using my XPan loaded with Fuji Velvia 100F, Daniel was using his Canon EOS 1Ds Mk whatever.

When I got the processed film, it looked like this:

ice0803-dark-sky.jpg

uncorrected scan

Not at ALL what I remembered!  No, I remember a leaden gray sky and pure white snow, so after some fairly drastic Photoshoppery (the slide has very low contrast, which should have given me a clue) I ended up with this:

ice0803-dark-sky-a.jpg

the Truth ... is out there ?

Daniel meanwhile worked on his RAW file, without any idea or sight of what I had done, and some later mailed me this (cropped by me from his 35mm FF format):

daniel_solheimasandur_edit.jpg

Daniel Bergmann’s view (© Daniel Bergmann)

Interestingly, he’s ended up with much more blue, pretty much as the Velvia 100F slide suggested, and a lot lower contrast: I think he’s believed the camera, as opposed to me trying to recreate whatever I could remember of my impression.

The point of all this is this: with such a range of subjectivity, which can give results which are neither “right” nor “wrong” (even removing a colour cast is subjective), what characteristics of film can really be so important ? In the digital age, the main issue surely is to capture a neutral image which will give as much latitude as possible for subjective interpretation.

Which pretty much rules out Velvia 50, the great favourite of landscape photographers since Noah launched the Ark…